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A mail-in kit, containing four long cotton swabs, placed in an envelope, with place holders for each cotton swab.

The risks from home-based genetic testing kits to privacy as well as people’s health appear far greater than the supposed benefits.

If you could have an early warning about your genetic risk of acquiring a serious disease or health condition, would you want it? For a few hundred dollars and a saliva sample, private companies will analyze parts of your genome and send you a report that quantifies your predisposition for conditions like Huntington’s disease and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and your carrier status for inherited conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sach’s disease and sickle cell anemia. Armed with that information you could make lifestyle changes to lower risk, seek medical advice and treatment, and talk with friends and family about your plans for managing possible symptoms and outcomes.

But before we swab our cheeks and mail saliva samples to private labs, we should try to answer a few questions. Are we equipped to make sense of the test results? Could our misunderstanding produce more harm than good—for both individuals and society? How much should we worry about how DNA samples...